Post-Soviet history of Volga (GAZ) cars

In the era of socialist Czechoslovakia, the Volga was a common part of the country’s roads. A lesser-known chapter in the history of GAZ, however, is their successors, some of whom remained on the market even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the new market conditions, however, they had no chance to impress outside the USSR.

After 1989, there were quite a few models with the Volga designation. GAZ started using the nickname Volha for several models of passenger cars from its range. These were complemented by utility vehicles, which GAZ primarily focused on after the collapse of the USSR.

Late arrival, late departure

One of them was the GAZ-3102 Volga sedan introduced in 1982, the development of which began already in the second half of the seventies. However, as was already the case with Soviet car companies at the time, the arrival on the market was delayed mainly in connection with supply difficulties caused by the centrally controlled economy. Some components simply weren’t available before.

The arrival on the market would perhaps be delayed even more, but after the end of the GAZ-13 Chaika, in the Soviet Union, a luxury car was not suitable for lower-ranking members of the Communist Party, for whom the existing Volga was no longer luxurious enough and the ZiLy was too much. After all, this is also why the car began to be produced by hand in the previously reserved Čajka factory.

Compared to the earlier GAZ-24, the GAZ-3102 differed mainly in the front and rear parts, which were already designed according to the fashion of the eighties, for example the mask was less decorative. The novelty was also distinguished by a longer body, as well as technology in the guts. The drive was provided by a gasoline, liquid-cooled in-line four-cylinder with a volume of 2.45 liters, which reached an output of 77 kW and a torque of 181 Nm. It was paired with a four-speed manual, the rear wheels were driven. At the same time, the original prototype counted on the use of a six-cylinder engine. In the end, it did not happen in the serial version, but there were cars powered by a 5.5-liter forked eight-cylinder. Likewise, the station wagon under consideration did not receive a serial version.

Based on the GAZ-3102, the derivative station wagon 31022 was also created. It was produced between 1992 and 1997, during which time about 5,000 examples were produced.

The GAZ-3102 Volha was designed as a successor to the GAZ-24, but in the end the existing model remained in production alongside it. In its modernized form, the long-serving GAZ-24-10 also received some modifications in the style of a newer car, namely a four-cylinder with a volume of 2.45 liters, a more efficient braking system or a modified cabin.

In the end, both cars lasted longer on the market than originally expected. Both the GAZ-3102 and the GAZ-24-10 were to be discontinued at the end of the eighties. But the collapse of the Soviet bloc meant that gradually modernized versions remained on the market until the new millennium. In short, GAZ did not have the funds for innovations, so the manufacturer had no choice but to constantly improve the existing technology.

Wringing an outdated foundation

Specifically, the GAZ-3102 Volga was produced until 2009. Almost 156,000 examples of this car were produced during roughly 26 years of production. It didn’t change much from the outside, but a five-speed manual transmission or maybe an upgraded engine and a more efficient brake system appeared inside.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “twenty-four” was produced in a modernized form called GAZ-31029 Volga, introduced in 1992. Pit carried the body panels of the 3102, but differed in the rounder nose. On the contrary, the technology in the guts remained practically identical to that of its predecessor. In addition to the sedan, a station wagon was also available.

However, the opening of the Russian market to Western European brands at the time meant that the status of the car changed fundamentally. If the Volha was once considered a luxury car available only to high-ranking people, in the new era it was an affordable car, moreover, with at most average workmanship. In the mid-nineties, GAZ-31029 became famous at least by appearing in the Bond film Zlaté oko, where he participated in a chase through the streets of St. Petersburg. The car remained on the market until 1997.

GAZ-31029: This generation of Volga also starred in the Bond movie.

In 1996, it was gradually replaced by the GAZ 3110 Volha, again available as a sedan and station wagon. The side profile still indicated the well-known technical origin, but the bow and stern were rounded again.

2.3 or 2.5-liter ZMZ gasoline four-cylinders settled under the hood, but there were also cars with diesel units, a 2.1-liter four-cylinder and a 2.7-liter five-cylinder. Power transmission was provided by a five-speed manual or a four-speed Aisin Warner automatic.

In 2004, the GAZ-31105 Volga arrived as a replacement, only in sedan form. He bet on a more prominent mask and round headlights, which were supposed to ensure the Volga’s higher status again years later, and the finally improved quality of production was also related to this. After all, the luxury model GAZ-311055 with an extended wheelbase was also created. A 2.4-liter Chrysler four-cylinder could also work under the hood.

This is how the interior of the planned GAZ-3115 was supposed to look in 2003.

Other projects

In addition, however, the GAZ carmaker also worked on other projects, for example on a real replacement for the 3102 and Čajka models. The result of the work was the GAZ 3105, which, however, was completed only at the beginning of the nineties, i.e. in a turbulent time when interest in Russian brand cars was declining everywhere outside of Russia. This is also why the luxuriously equipped car was created in only a few dozen pieces. At the same time, the five-meter length or the eight-cylinder fork under the hood promised a lot, but the 3105 simply came at the wrong time.

It was similar to the GAZ 3111 from the turn of the millennium. It was supposed to replace the significantly outdated 24-10 and 3110 models, while betting on a design inspired by cars from the West or interesting technology, including a six-cylinder Toyota and a four-cylinder diesel.

The GAZ-3115 standing in the foreground was created in 2003, but it did not go into mass production.

But it turned out that the design was not very popular, and the production was also very expensive. On top of everything else, the Volha brand was already perceived as more affordable in Russia at the time, so an upper middle-class model with the ambition to compete with BMW or Mercedes simply had no chance of success. They also realized this at the car company, so only about 500 examples were produced as part of the pre-series production. After all, even the GAZ-3115 prototype from 2003 did not make it into production.

Despite these failures, Volha still had some sound on the Russian market even in the new millennium. In 2007, the automaker decided to revive the ancient glory of this name when it introduced the GAZ Volha Siber. It was a disguised Chrysler Sebring, a car combining American style with a Russian brand. To reduce costs, such a virtue out of necessity, but it could have had a chance to attract attention in the Russian market. But the car arrived at the time of the economic crisis, so the planned production of 40,000 units per year fell short. When the GAZ Volha Siber ended in 2010 after three years of production, only about 9,000 cars were produced during that time. Furthermore, it simply wasn’t worth producing.

And with that, the history of Volga cars is closed for the time being. Many would like to see its return, but it has not yet happened – its former manufacturer, the GAZ car company, lives on, but is primarily focused on commercial vehicles. Nowadays, the Volga would again have a chance only on the domestic market. And that is not a threat to her return at the moment.

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